Super Tasty, Super Cheesy, Turbo Cheese Sauce
Updated: Jun 11, 2020
A low effort, low mess cheese sauce that does not compromise on flavour, made in 10
As a fully qualified cheese fiend I am super anal about the quality of my cheese sauce when making my favourite comfort food. Crowd pleasers like Mac & Cheese, Cauliflower Cheese, Disco Fries or Spicy Nachos live and die on the quality of the cheese sauce and if it's wrong, there ain't nothing you can do to put lipstick on that pig. Do it right though, and you will create a thing of beauty that gives a hug to the soul that only proper comfort food can achieve.
Firstly, it has to have the right thickness. Watery, hot, cheese juice is not anyone's idea of a good time and conversely, if you can slice it, you screwed it up!
Secondly, it has have a balance of cheesiness (Yes, that is a word). This is all about the cheese selection of choice and volume used, too mild and it's basically Bechamel boring, too mature and it'll be heartburn-tastic and overly rich, too blue or earthy and it's just going to kill all the other flavours and taste of feet, yes feet, and not the good kind of feet.
And that's basically it, get the consistency and the flavour profile right and you're off to the races. Fortunately for you, we've got a couple of old pro tricks that will make sure your cheese game is up to par.
A good cheese sauce is a labour of love to do properly and sometimes, you don't have the time, the need or the patience to stand stirring for 20 minutes, you just want to get it done. There will never be an excuse to use a shop bought cheese sauce or packet mix so put that idea straight out of your head. It is pretty much impossible to mass produce a decent cheese sauce that can be preserved, too much dairy.
This recipe uses the least popular machine in a discerning cooks kitchen (But I know you've got one), the microwave. Shock, Horror, yes I said it, we're going to nuke us a cheese sauce that is great quality, good consistency and perfect for a low effort mid-week dinner or anytime lunch bowl of pasta, vegetable side or the base of a quick dip and it's gong to take around 10 minutes.
Based on roughly 1 litre / 2 pints of cheese sauce (enough for Pasta for 4 or a large helping of Cauliflower / Broccoli Cheese)
300g Cheese (We recommend 6-12 month Mature Cheddar Cheese) - 250g for the sauce & 50g for sprinkling onto the finished dish
750ml / 1.5 Pints of Full Fat Milk (Low fat if you must, No fat if you hate life)
2 Heaped Tablespoons of Cornflour
1 Tablespoon of Butter
Salt & Pepper to taste
Cooking Hardware Requirements
Firstly, you're going to need a large microwavable jug, a bowl will do if you don't have a jug but make sure it can comfortably hold 1 litre of liquid without being too close to the rim. Additionally, you'll need cling film / plastic wrap, cheese grater and a whisk. Oh, and a Microwave.
Pour the milk in the jug
Add a good pinch of salt & pepper
Add the cornflour and whisk until combined (lump free)
Add the butter to the jug
Grate the 300g cheese and put 50g aside for later
Add the cheese to the jug
Cover the top of the jug with cling film
Microwave on full power for 3 minutes
Peel back and stir mixture well (don't panic if it's a bit of a lumpy mess, that's OK, chill)
Re-cover with the cling film and microwave on full power for 1 minute
Peel back and stir the mixture well (make sure no cornflour is stuck to the sides of the jug)
Repeat this process in 1 minute increments, microwave then stir, being sure to re-cover the jug with the cling film each time.
Depending on the power of your microwave, total time in the microwave (including the initial 3 minutes) will be between 5 and 8 minutes. As you notice the mixture getting hot, watch it whilst it's cooking in the microwave as if it boils, it will spill over the sides of the jug and you'll have a super-messy clean up job to do.
Once the sauce gets to your desired thickness (it will thicken further slightly after you've finished cooking), adjust the salt and pepper to your taste.
You now have an unctuous cheesy cheese sauce!
Top Tips and Tweaks
Cheese has such a massive range of flavour, until you get your go-to brand and maturity, you might need to add a little something something to get the kind of cheese sauce you love. here's a few tweaks to get the most out of your sauce:
If your sauce is not cheesy enough, add a teaspoon of English Mustard and stir through, leave it for 2 minutes and taste again, English Mustard brings out the flavour of Cheddar. Also check your salt level, cheese is naturally salty so be careful but a lack of seasoning will limit the cheesiness
If it's just a bit bland, add a couple of splashes of Worcester Sauce and taste again, it will give it a little acidity and spice
Beware of blue, A blue cheese sauce can be a beautiful thing in the right hands but if you think you can just chuck a block of Stinking Bishop in and hope for the best, you're gonna learn the hard way. A good blue cheese sauce can be achieved by using 3 quarters mild cheese e.g. mozzarella or brie with 1 quarter blue. It's still going to be bitter so add some sweetness with shallots, chives and a little onion powder. a small splash of white wine to keep it on the slightly thinner side cooked through to take out the alcohol and you'll be in the right ball park. Through it over some good pasta with sum crispy bacon and you'll definitely register some points.
If it's not luxurious and velvety enough. If it lacks sheen then a little extra butter stirred in at the end should give it a visual lift. If you want luxury and are not going to stepping on scales for a while, swap out the milk for single cream, you rockstar!
If it lacks body and depth of flavour, add 1/2 a teaspoon of powdered garlic, stir through and let stand for a minute, garlic will make it taste more savoury.
If you want it to have a kick, to go with spicy food or as a dip, add a liberal shot of Sriracha sauce and stir through, instant spice upgrade
Make it Trashy, if you're planning something a little more "Urban" like Disco Fries, Cheeseburger Tacos or Chilli Popper dip, swap out the Cheddar for processed cheese. It might take a little more cooking but you're going to end up with that thick molten slightly synthetic, guilty pleasure pouring cheese "You're nasty!"
Bacon, add bacon, then add more bacon. Do I need to add anything to that?
Its not thickening, if you've been microwaving for long and it's still not thickening up, try adding a heaped teaspoon of cornflour to a little cold milk in a glass and mix well. Get your cheese sauce good and hot, dump in the flour shot and stir quickly, after another minute in the micro, you should see thickening.
My sauce has split. Using this method, it shouldn't happen but if your sauce separates and looks like water with cheese lumps in it, start again. You can mess around trying to nuke it back together but 9 times out of 10, it's a glorious waste of time. Don't do that to yourself, have some self respect and get back on that horse!
If you want something a bit different, I've experimented with adding sweet chilli sauce to add depth and sweetness and also Balsamic Vinegar to cut though the richness when it's a bit heavy. Also adding a little Parmesan Cheese can lift the Umami and make it super savoury. White wine can be added when you want to thin out the sauce for something a little more refined and delicate but be sparing.
Just remember, once it's in there, there's no turning back so use little and taste often. Separating out a ladle of sauce to mess with as an insurance policy is not a bad idea if you're going off menu. Little is as traumatic as pouring a failed cheese sauce down the drain.
The more you make this recipe the more you'll refine and get to your preferred flavour profile. Most of all, just make it! Whilst I still revert to cooking a cheese sauce the traditional way in a saucepan with a roux when I'm cooking to impress, this is not far off, takes half the time and half the cleaning up.
Great uses for this recipe:
Oven Baked Mac & Cheese
Pimped Lasagne White Sauce
Sunday Dinner Veggie Bake
Nacho Cheese Sauce
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